Oléron does not enjoy the same reputation as the Île de Ré. And yet, it has many strings to its bow, often unsuspected … Less neat, it offers the advantage of being less “civilized” and more accessible in terms of prices. A little too neglected in places, this island remains a popular destination that lives mainly in the summer. And which exudes a crazy charm to the detours of its paths. A good idea to get away from it all if the long weekends in May allow it.
Arrival, citadel and beaches as far as the eye can see
With its 30 km long and its 12 km wide, Oléron is the second largest French island after Corsica. It is linked to the mainland by a viaduct more than 3 kilometers long, inaugurated in 1966 and … free, unlike that of the Ile de Ré. However, free admission has its drawbacks, tourists flock there of course, but also Charentais who sometimes come from afar to spend the day or the weekend. Its large fine sandy beaches and the quality of its waves have made it an ideal place for board sports, revealing to amateurs, enthusiasts and professionals, unparalleled surf spots in the region.
To the south-east, not far from the bridge, we find the second town of the island, Château d’Oléron. Its citadelis an unmissable visit. Military structure intended to protect the southern part of the island of Oléron, it was born in 1630. Noting the weaknesses of the structure, the chief engineer Vauban decided in 1685 to create two horn structures. Begun three years later, the work required thousands of men. Some 7,000 workers, including salt workers from Dolus and Saint-Trojan, are working on the construction. Many will lose their lives due to fatigue and the harshness of winter. Several times reinforced to prevent English incursions, the citadel was converted into a prison during the revolutionary period. Bombed by the Allies, the building requires a major restoration which has been carried out since the 1980s. The ramparts offer a superb view, early in the morning when the oyster farmers leave on their boats, or late in the evening at sunset. The entire building is accessible, two elevators serve the first floor. The rest of the southern tip of Oléron faces the Arvert peninsula on the mainland and offers immense stretches of beaches. Conversely, Saint-Trojan-les-Bains, at the southwestern end of the island of Oléron, is the most wooded town on the island. Its large pine forest was planted in the XIX at the south-western end of the island of Oléron, is the most wooded municipality of the island. Its large pine forest was planted in the XIX at the south-western end of the island of Oléron, is the most wooded municipality of the island. Its large pine forest was planted in the XIXe century to retain the sands, the dunes being able to reach more than 30 meters high. Above all, this former fishing village and salt workers, once isolated from the rest of the island was opened to tourism since the end of the XIX th century. Saint-Trojan has the charm of the first seaside resorts, with its elaborate villas of regionalist inspiration (Basque, Anglo-Norman), its seafront and its long sandy beach. Today it is a village that vacationers appreciate for swimming, walks in the forest and the oyster port and its colorful huts.
Capital and return from fishing
It is impossible to mention Oléron without talking about the one to whom we attribute the nickname of capital of the island. It must be said that Saint-Pierre-d’Oléronis located in the center of the island at an equal distance from the bridge and the Chassiron lighthouse. This very special position benefited the city very early on, allowing it to develop trade relations with northern Europe, exporting salt and wine from Boyardville and La Cotinière. This typical port, facing the sea, is recognized today for the quality of the products that fishermen unload: line bass, sole, langoustines. It is also the ideal setting for a stroll. Walkers will observe the brightly colored flotilla, the ballet of boats bringing their precious goods to the first fishing port of Charente-Maritime, eating an ice cream after swimming. The auction is magnificent, the fishmongers and restaurateurs of the coast get their supplies there.
In summer, life is delightfully lively with street vendors, concerts and restaurants. But Saint-Pierre-d’Oléron is also known for this great spire piercing the sky. Located on the Place Camille-Mémain, the lantern of the dead, built in the middle of the medieval cemetery, is unmissable with its 25 m height. Rich in varied landscapes, Saint-Pierre-d’Oléron inspired one of the great Charentais authors, Pierre Loti. Born in Rochefort-sur-Mer, the writer spent his holidays on the island. It rests besides in the “House of the Aïeules” bought back by its care in 1899. And, image of Epinal of the island, the salt marshes and the swamps reconverted in oyster beds are primarily located around Saint-Pierre -Oléron.
To the north, a mythical lighthouse
Further north, the landscape gives way to cliffs and the famous Chassiron lighthouse. The quintessential emblem of the island of Oléron, the lighthouse has stood at the northern tip of the island since 1834. A first 33-meter-high tower was first erected in 1685, at a time when the arsenal of Rochefort was booming and a strategic location for the Royal Navy. Faced with the proliferation of shipwrecks on this steep and misty coast, and the increase in maritime traffic, the Chassiron lighthouse was commissioned in 1836, and equipped with the latest technologies of the time in terms of lighting: a vegetable oil lamp with six wicks. It switched to gas in 1895, then to electric around 1905. Originally white, the lighthouse took on its current black bands from 1926, to distinguish it from its counterparts in Cordouan and Les Baleines. The last Chassiron lighthouse keeper left in 1998.